John Smallwood: Reid between the lines


Enough was enough for Eagles with Shawn Andrews

Posted: September 16, 2009

THE COMPLETE picture isn't important right now.

There is more to the story of why the Eagles placed wayward offensive tackle Shawn Andrews on injured reserve, ending his season before he played one play from scrimmage.

The fact that the Birds shut down a former Pro Bowl offensive lineman one game into the season over a confusing back issue screams that there is more to this story than we're being told.

Why now, after dealing with all of the migraines Andrews put this team through over the last year?

It doesn't matter. The full story will come out sooner or later.

What matters is that the Eagles finally acknowledged they made a colossal blunder by putting so much hope in a player they knew was unreliable.

Shifting Andrews from guard to right tackle was the linchpin to the Eagles' revamped offensive line for 2009. But Andrews, who missed most of last season after battling clinical depression and having back surgery, didn't make it through the first day of training camp.

He tweaked his back running wind sprints and then took a sabbatical for the rest of the summer.

The Eagles finally thought they had their prodigal tackle back, as he was scheduled to start the season opener.

Andrews, however, was scratched days before the Eagles' 38-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers when the back apparently flared up.

None of that would seem too extraordinary if not for the fact that nobody seems to know what, if anything, is wrong with Andrews.

The doctor who operated on Andrews examined him about a month ago and said that the back was medically cleared and that Andrews could resume football activities.

That Andrews did not has been a source of irritation for head coach Andy Reid, a former offensive lineman at Brigham Young University.

You never want to question an injury, but in Andrews' case there is circumstantial evidence that the guy might not like playing football, or that he doesn't have a high enough pain threshold to be an effective NFL player.

There is a difference between being injured and playing with pain. The latter is a job requirement for making a living playing a collision sport.

Every football player plays hurt to some degree in every game.

"Despite receiving medical clearance from back specialist Dr. Robert Watkins late in the summer, Andrews was unable to overcome back pain to get on the field in the days leading up to the opening game of the regular season in Carolina," the Eagles said on their Web site.

That sounds like a political way of saying, "Shawn won't play hurt," which is a nice way of saying, "Shawn isn't tough enough to play in the NFL."

Logically, there is no reason for the move the Eagles made.

Beyond Andrews' effectiveness when he actually played, the offensive line already was shaky, because of a rash of injuries. Guard Todd Herremans is still out after foot surgery. Guard Stacy Andrews and tackle Jason Peters weren't 100 percent healthy when they took the field against Carolina on Sunday. There is not much margin for error if someone goes down.

Even with much-maligned Winston Justice performing admirably at right tackle against the Panthers, this move did not have to be made. In fact, Justice's performance actually could have decreased the urgency for Shawn Andrews to return to the lineup.

The smart move would have been to wait a few more weeks on Andrews to see whether he felt up to playing.

Considering the lack of depth, it's odd that the Birds would shut down Andrews when he could have been back before Herremans.

This is the Eagles throwing their hands in the air. This is Reid acknowledging he misread Andrews' commitment to the Eagles.

It's cauterizing a wound before the body bleeds out.

It's the right move.

A football team cannot thrive with players like Shawn Andrews around. The bond in a locker room comes from each player believing that each of his teammates is willing to sacrifice for the whole.

It seems widely accepted at the NovaCare Complex that Shawn Andrews is not a teammate who can be depended on.

The Eagles ignored some warnings about Andrews' motivation coming out of the University of Arkansas and drafted him 16th overall in 2004.

It wasn't a mistake. Most organizations would be seduced by the potential of a 6-4, 330-pound man-mountain. And it looked good when Andrews made the Pro Bowl in 2006 and 2007.

The excitement generated from those seasons probably is what motivated the Eagles to give Andrews all the space he needed while dealing with his depression last summer.

That same upside had Reid ignore what was happening in front of him and make the blind leap of faith that Andrews would be dependable enough to shift from guard to tackle and have the 2009 offensive line built around him.

Yesterday, Reid finally conceded to the conclusion that many outside observers already had reached - you can't count on Shawn Andrews. *

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